Killing Uduqu

The Glass Bridge (Bell Mountain #7): Lee Duigon: 9781891375675 ...

If your characters don’t connect with your readers, your book won’t work, your story will fall flat.

I introduced the fierce old Abnak sub-chief, Uduqu, in Book No. 2, The Cellar Beneath the Cellar. I liked him and kept him around. And in Book No. 7, The Glass Bridge, he took part in a desperate battle.

I won’t forget how my wife and my editor reacted when they thought I’d killed off this character. They were about ready to scalp me. Sheesh, what was I thinking! But they only had to read a few more paragraphs before they learned Uduqu was all right, after all.

There are characters who walk into the story just to do some little thing and then wind up staying to do a lot of things, and growing, and getting you attached to them. With 12 Bell Mountain novels published so far, there are of necessity an awful lot of characters.

Why am I talking about this when I have to crank out a Newswithviews column? Oh, I don’t know. Do I feel a need to justify populating my books with all those characters?

Well, heck, it’s a history–like Livy’s history of Rome. Count up all the characters in Livy sometime. True, the history of Obann, in my books, is fictional. Some uncharitable souls have said the same of Livy. Not to mention Geoffrey of Monmouth, and Herodotus. I guess if you don’t like their histories, you won’t like mine, either. But there’s something to be said for a book that’s stayed in print since 400 B.C.

[Confidential to “Unknowable”: I hear you, brother!]

We’ll Never Know Why

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Once the center of a Great Power

History is full of momentous events, shocking events, that can’t be fully understand because so little of the record has survived. What does survive is mysteries. Here’s one of them.

Sometime around 1595 B.C. the king of the Hittites, Mursili I, marched his army all the way down Mesopotamia from what is now Turkey, all the way to Babylon, then the greatest city in the world. The Hittite ruler sacked the great city, putting an end to the dynasty made famous by Hammurabi, radically disrupting the international political system of the Ancient Near East.

But he didn’t stay long. Babylon was much too far from the Hittite center of power, for any Hittite government to be established there. Mursili looted the place and then marched home. He wasn’t back for very long before he was assassinated.

We don’t know why he attacked Babylon. It was about as far as you could go from Hittite lands and still find any cities at all. There were no roads. Bringing an army all the way down there must have been a colossal undertaking.

In Babylon they must have known the Hittites were coming; but a) their own country was undergoing civil strife, and not in a good position to defend itself; and b) “The Hittites? Did you say Hittites? Don’t they live somewhere way the hell up there in the mountains? What do you mean, ‘The Hittites are coming’?” It would have been very hard news to believe.

History is the collective memory of mankind. With it we can hope to understand our own time. We can at least try. Livy and King Solomon would agree: what has been done before is what is being done now; there is no new thing under the sun.

Inquire of the Lord for wisdom, and for understanding.

Those were in short supply, in Babylon.

A Parable of Forced Equality

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New York wants to abolish programs and schools for gifted and talented students. There is a parable from the ancient world which seems to tell us why.

This story was told by both Herodotus, a Greek, and Livy, a Roman who lived some centuries after Herodotus. But I don’t think Livy lifted the story from Herodotus. Both presented it as a historical event, but it has much more the feel of a well-known parable.

The tyrant who ruled a certain city had one son to succeed him; but the young man didn’t know how he ought to go about being an effective tyrant. He asked his father, “How do you govern the city? How have you managed to stay in power for so many years?”

“I’ll teach you; it’s quite simple,” said the father.

Taking his son to a poppy field outside the city, the tyrant said, “Watch.” And with his cane he proceeded to knock the heads off all the poppies around them.

“This is how you rule the city,” he explained. “Even as I have cut all these poppies down so that none is higher than another, so have I maintained my power: by cutting down any man who rises to a certain height above the others, so that none is any greater than another, but all are equal; all are weak. I am the only one who towers over all. There is no one else whom they can turn to for a leader.”

You can see this sort of “diversity” has a very ancient pedigree. Tyrants have been cutting people down for thousands of years.

Fallen human nature hasn’t changed.

Why Study History?

No one ever answered this question better than Titus Livius, whom we know as Livy, who wrote his History of Rome during the time of Augustus Caesar. And here is his answer.

“The study of history is the best medicine for a sick mind; for in history you have a record of the infinite variety of human experience plainly set out for all to see; and in that record you can find for yourself and your country both examples and warnings; fine things to take as models, base things, rotten through and through, to avoid.”

Any questions?

‘King David’s Military Genius’

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Some of you might enjoy this article I wrote for the Chalcedon magazine in 2005, on King David’s generalship. He really was quite good at it.

It’s a little long, but so what? It’s Bible history.

‘Redistributing Poverty’ (2012)

I still find it hard to believe that anyone would ever think the government could “redistribute the wealth.” Government does few things well, and many things badly.

A Conspiracy That Really Happened

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If you know me, you know I don’t have much patience for conspiracy theories. I really don’t think John Kerry and Jimmy Carter are smart enough to fix a Monopoly game, much less micromanage everything that happens, or seems to happen, in the world.

Nevertheless, I must concede there are such things as criminal conspiracies; and one of the gaudiest and most ambitious of them was suppressed by the Roman Senate in 186 B.C. We know about it from the massive Roman history written by Livy during the reign of Augustus Caesar, and from a surviving decree by the Senate officially suppressing this conspiracy ( )–whose name has come down to us as “the Bacchic cult,” or “the Bacchic conspiracy.”

Essentially it was a blackmail ring. The ancient worship of Bacchus, or Dionysus, was famous for its wild orgies. The Romans in those days were a bit too strait-laced to tolerate that; nevertheless, the cult of Bacchus was imported into Rome via southern Italy. Once established in the city, it soon mutated into a rather horrible criminal enterprise.

It worked by enticing young Romans from important families into the Bacchic rites, where they would be encouraged in behavior that could get them banished or even put to death. That gave the cult a hold over you, and you had to do whatever they told you to do–including murder, theft, forgery, etc. More importantly, you had to suck other rich young Romans into the cult: so it was a kind of pyramid scheme, too.

The Senate feared that, beyond debauching Roman society and enriching itself, the cult aimed ultimately at taking control of the state. The Senate passed a decree outlawing the cult and took very vigorous measures to wipe it out. According to Livy, there were more executions than banishments: he doesn’t say exactly how many, but historians believe it must have run into the thousands.

We are free to speculate as to what would have happened, had the cult been able to recruit leading members of the Senate. Probably they tried. But the whole business failed when it was publicly exposed and Roman society violently rejected it.

The question that must be asked is this: If the same thing were being done here and now, today in America, would it be rejected and suppressed–or would it parade its vices openly, with the blessings of the Supreme Court and the Democrat Party?

Sorry–I Believe the Bible

I had occasion yesterday to consult “Biblical scholars.” But as usual, I found their company to be annoying–because most of them seem not to believe hardly a single word the Bible says. They (most of them) would have us believe that virtually the whole Old Testament is fiction, cooked up by Jewish priests looking to wile away the years of captivity in Babylon by spinning tall tales.

I like to think that I know something about writing fiction. I’ve been doing it for almost all my life. And reading a lot of it, too. Not to mention history produced by Greeks and Romans, Britons, Scandinavian peoples, and others.

The great medieval Icelandic historian, Snorri Sturlusson, said he trusted his sources–royal poets, most of them–because, had they praised the kings who employed them with stories and boasts that people knew were not true, they would only win for their kings mockery, not praise. I take that to be always true. People have always laughed at empty boasts.

So not only would those fictioneering Jewish priests have exposed themselves to ridicule–but why would they take their two greatest kings, David and Solomon, and describe how those kings fell into sin and folly, and brought evil on their country? No Roman historian–and Roman historians, like Livy, are always, always accused to making their subjects look much better than they were–would have dreamed of writing such a thing.

The practice of tearing down the great and famous men of the past never came into general use until late in the 19th century. There could have been no reason whatsoever for Biblical chroniclers to show Solomon, wise King Solomon, indulging in foolish behavior that ruined his kingdom.

They would not have written that unless it were true and everyone knew it to be true. Ditto David and some of his more egregious mis-steps.

This, of course, is a vast subject and I have only scraped its surface here. But if scholars are going to accuse the Bible writers of spinning yarns, they would do well to acquire some slight understanding of fiction.